Reporting from the LITA National Forum

By Patrick Hogan |

A week ago some 300 librarians gathered in Columbus, Ohio for the LITA National Forum, where the focus was on technology, despite the distraction of BeardCon.

The annual Forum is an idea-generator with project-focused presentations and plenty of time to mingle with colleagues. I attended a couple programs that showed how showed how practical applications of technology solve basic library problems. Take incorrectly shelved books, for instance. Librarian Stacy Brinkman and associate professor of computing Bo Brinkman, both of Miami University of Ohio, presented the ShelvAR app for Android devices. It helps shelvers scan the shelves for misplaced books and place them properly. A good augmented reality app harnesses the computer power is processing large amounts of data," Bo explained, "to support the human strengths of visual and spatial analysis and inductive reasoning." To prepare the collection for the ShelvAR app, staff labeled the books in straight line with codes generated from LC numbers. Pointing a smartphone camera at the line of tags, the app shows green checks for properly placed books and a question mark for misplaced. By tapping the screen, a pointer suggests the proper placement of the book.

ShjelvAR demoA pilot project still in beta, ShelvAR's preliminary testing shows that it saves time and reduces errors, especially among new shelvers. Videos demonstrating use of the app are on the ShelvAR website. An API is available, and code is posted to github. The app is not open source and is currently in one-year provisional patent phase. It's possible that Miami of Ohio will file a patent. Students involved with the project will be working on an iOS app in the coming months.

In another presentation, Lisa Santucci and Jason Paul Michel from Miami University showed how their use of "data visualization" screens. In addition to API-driven news from traditional and social sources, screens satisfy student needs by displaying the availability of reserved rooms and computers. Surveys showed that students were using security cameras in the 24/7 library to avoid long lines for coffee or save steps when looking for available rooms or computer workstations. The computer availability maps were made possible through LabStats from Computer Lab Solutions and the work of talented colleagues from the sim lab creating maps in Google SketchUp. A Drupal View module allows the screens to display covers of recently returned books. At present, the screens are on carts, allowing for portability. The library is carefully considering wall mounts in strategic locations.

As an editor for Marshall Breeding's Smart Library newsletter, I read about the latest product development in libraries from the safety of my office at ALA headquarters. Spared the messy implementation, I found a couple presentations to be real eye-openers. Josh Petrusa of Butler University and Courtney Greene of Indiana University presented on implementing discovery services at their institutions. Josh, a former film student, noted that implementation of discovery follows the traditional story arc of a horror film with multiple build-ups of tension and releases. Butler, a member of the PALNI consortium of private academic libraries in Indiana, implemented Primo. Indiana University implemented two discovery layer projects EBSCO Discover Service and Blacklight. “Know your data, Josh warned, especially if your in a consortia.” Courtney found that out when odd results left her wondering where on campus the secret bunker filled with globes was. I think the confusion of data had to do with creative use of MARC local fields. My conclusion was that digging into MARC records when implementing discovery is inevitable.

Discovery of ebooks in libraries is no less challenging than developing a business model for them. Kathryn Fedrick of Skidmore College presented on her beta project customizing Vufind for ebooks. Skidmore has access to 300,000 ebooks spread across more than 40 sources. Kathryn installed VuFind on an Amazon's EC2 server and uses a MySQL database indexed by Solr . Kathryn is testing the implementation with a set of 140,000 records. Among the challenges are managing the records files and the poor quality of vendor-supplied ebook records. Loading ebrary records into the catalog has generated a spike in ebook usage, but the project creates additional workload for catalogers.

Eric Hellman's keynote speech made case for a public sector of ebooks. Current players in the emerging public sector include e-book vendors, the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, Public Library of Science, Europeana, Digital Public Library of America, WorldCat, and BookShare. What has been missing is an effective way to bring copyrighted material into the public commons. Eric’s company company fills that role through crowd-funding pledge drives with the goal of releasing works with a Creative Commons license. A business model for library lending of ebooks is in professional conversation, and Eric’s speech reviewed four options.

  1. Pretend it's print. The familiar model in place now is compatible with existing businesses and institutions, but depends on a false scarcity.
  2. Advertising. Distracts readers and doesn't deliver sufficient eyeball for advertisers.
  3. Subscription platforms. A good fit if books are expensive, they trend to "big deal" market dynamics--- more content at greater prices with customers buying more than they need.
  4. Sell to the public commons.

Drawing from the ideas of economist Hal Varian, Eric examined the impact of book lending to sales. When the cost of circulation is less than the cost of duplication, libraries will encourage wider reading, and publishers will benefit from inreased book sales. When the cost of circulation exceeds the cost of duplication, however, libraries are not needed. There are two types of readers, Eric explained, those who buy and those who borrow. Borrowers are willing to accept inconvenience in return for free reading. Thus ,the ebook lending paradox. In order for libraries to be good --add value in a publishing economy-- they need to be bad, putting up a wall of inconvenience. "Yuck!" Eric said. Karen Coyle’s recent post “Success Paradox” reaches a similar conclusion. If a library's ebook lending program becomes popular, the associated escalation of costs would make the service unsustainable. Eric believes that library ebook lending is transitional and won’t work in the long run.

Ebook lending was among the topics Sarah Houghton addressed in her keynote on technology and customer service. As director of the San Rafael Public Library, she has made a decision to discontinue the library’s vendor-provided ebook service when the contract expires. Prominent among her reasons is a belief that the service is not consistent with the Library Bill of Rights. Instead, she is looking to opportunities in the public commons Eric references as well as locally produced content.

Noted human-computer interface researcher Ben Shneiderman delivered a keynote on visual analytics, social discovery, and the power of networked communities. In a presentation rich with examples, he shared his Visual Information Seeking Mantra: Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand. " It's not machine driven algorithms that solve problems, it's people," Shneiderman said. Visual analytics helps users confirm what they know and spot what they don't know. The human eye is trained to pick up anomalies. A visual interface can show outliers that would be missed in a data set or highlight errors in the data. "Information visualization gives you answers to questions you didn't know you had." he said. With a a visual representation of congressional partisanship, Shneiderman showed the power of the tool NodeXL an open source Excel template for social network graphing. I could only see a few programs, more info is on the Web.

See archived keynote speeches on UStream.

See slides from presentations mentioned in this post.

Stacy Brinkman and Dr. Bo Brinkman, Next Generation Collection Management: Using Augmented Reailaity Mobile Applications to Autoomate Shelf Reading and Inventory Control.
Lisa Santucci and Jason Paul Michel, Data Visualization Walls: Building Visualization Displays with Open Data, Freeware, and APIs..
Josh Petrusa and Courtney Greene, Doctoring Strange Results (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Discovery Results.

Congratulations to presenters Alexa Pearce, Nadaleen Tempelman-Kluit, winners with the Forum’s Risky Business contest, honoring their project for innovation: Persona Most Grata: Invoking the User from Data to Design

ALA Connect LITA Forum pages have slides or links to them from many of the presentations.